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Panel: How to improve media coverage of the refugee crisis

April 5, 2017

Open Canada | Catherine Tsalikis

Canada has been lauded in the international press for the Trudeau government’s response to the global refugee crisis — for the resettling of more than 40,000 Syrian refugees since taking office and for the way the government has framed the issue in positive terms.

But at a media panel presented by the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) on Monday at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa, journalists who have spent time on the ground in Syria and neighbouring countries affected by the Syrian refugee crisis caution against Canadians feeling overly proud of themselves.

Journalist Michael Petrou, who has recently returned from a month spent in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon reporting on Syrian refugees who have stayed in the Middle East, pointed to much smaller communities that have accepted a far greater number of refugees.

“I wish we’d stop being so damn smug about it,” Petrou told the audience this week. “I interviewed the mayor of Kilis, in southeastern Turkey — this is a town that prior to the Syrian civil war had a population of about 94,000 people. It now has close to 135,000 Syrian refugees. [The mayor] tells me this joke, and the punchline is, ‘oh, Canada is hosting 40,000 refugees — congratulations, what hotel are they staying at?’”

Petrou recommended that Canada’s media, political class and public consider “the very mundane aspects of hosting that many people — garbage, sewage, water — then expand that into education, and you start to have a little bit of an idea of the severity of the impact of this refugee crisis on the countries that are actually hosting most of the refugees.”

Naheed Mustafa, an independent writer and broadcaster, agreed. “[Crises are] often seen through this lens of something that’s happening to ‘us’ — something that’s happening to Europe, to America, to Canada,” she said. “Whereas when you look at the local countries, that’s where this crisis is playing out in the worst ways.”

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